Graduation, 2018: “Pride is not the word I’m looking for, there is so much more inside me now…”

If we lay a strong enough foundation, we’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you and you’ll blow us all away…

~Leslie Odom Jr as Aaron Burr in Hamilton


It’s been awhile since I really cared about the graduation/commencement ceremonies at my university. I am not sure why. Most likely with the personal issues regarding my father’s health, and returning back to the lab after a (way too) long stint at the Academic Development Directorate.

But here I am, in 2018, feeling an emotional attachment to the new graduates that I haven’t felt in a long time. I have been searching for the reasons these past few weeks. I believe I have known it for awhile, I just didn’t want to acknowledge it.

This graduating class had experienced something that other classes didn’t. They experienced a loss of fellow class member in a tragedy. Our entire department was thrust into national news in an unflattering way. And I was in the middle of it all, because I was the victim’s academic advisor. It is still painful to talk about, to discuss the surrounding circumstances, to discuss the final days leading to the discovery of his body and the aftermath. I will never forget that experience, mostly because I got caught up in all the hubris in social media. I let myself get baited by people who obviously don’t know my students, don’t know me and don’t know the department. But we got through it. Scarred and bruised, but we got through.

The graduating students this semester (and also, last semester) are his friends. They entered the department in the same year. I hope they remember him even though most didn’t really interact with him. They have moved on, and as more news eclipsed their friend’s case, he was seemingly forgotten. It may be a show of ignorance, but I prefer to see it as resilience of a generation. On how to continue living. To support one another. Be there for each other. Be kind(er) to one another. Show compassion, respect for their friends.

So that’s what I want the graduates to take away with them as they don their cap and gowns. The world can be cruel and harsh, people have no regrets in using words to take you down in hatred. Please, as you move forward with your lives, treat all the people you meet with kindness, compassion and respect. They may not look like you, pray like you, eat what you eat, love differently. But they are human beings, just like you. Also as Biologists, you know better about the living world and  all the inhabitants. From the single celled bacteria to the complex primates, from the microalgae to the large trees in the forest, they all play a role in our existence. We all interact with one another. Treat them well, and they will help us towards better living.

I would also like to mention the parents and those who played a role in supporting the graduates. Thank you for entrusting us with your children’s education. I know  your investment was significant, your sacrifices great. I hope we have made it worthwhile for you also, and made you as proud as we are of these young men and women.

Usually, we the teachers only remember students that stand out in their grades. But I would like to remember others who have their own stories. Don’t worry, I will try not to embarass you much. And apologies to those I do not mention specifically.

Ikin, who I think as a leader, but somehow managed to sleep through mid term Microbiology. Aldo, designated ketua angkatan, but most memorable for guitar playing, and spending time in the Microbiology lab when he didn’t have to. I call him a mascot. The ladies are a bit difficult to mention, because there are more women than men in Biology. But there is Angel the cumlaude candidate who finished in 7 semesters.  Then there are those who went through study problems, personal problems. I am glad some trusted me enough and shared their stories with me. Be proud that you are here, this day, in your cap and gown. You did it.

To the Microbiology lab grads, wow. What a learning process you went through. Qonita, Rifki, Heru, Nimas, Dewi, Rina. Good job!

And finally, I would like specially mention the three students in my lab who were under my supervision: Rama,  Faozi and Aulia. You came in like models for this generation: a bit foolish, happy-go-lucky, jock athletes who prefer the hoops instead of the the lab. I think you had a rude awakening of some kind in the lab. Not easy, yes? But you overcame the nervousness, the contamination, the grueling overnight growth curves, breaking glassware (yes, you need to replace them) to produce good results that you can be proud of. Congratulations, you three. And while I wish you spent more time writing,  thank you for making me firmly believe that patience, combined with hard work, does pay off.

I look forward to see what you all will do in the future.